Claire Dolan lived for football until she learned one of her kidneys was defunct. Within days she had to swap college and football for dialysis and an awful waiting game, writes Arlene Harris.
CLAIRE Dolan, 21, had no idea two years ago, when she was enjoying college life, that she would need an organ donation.When it was discovered that she had an undeveloped kidney, the Westmeath woman became reliant on the kindness of strangers to give her a new lease of life.
“On September 15, 2012, I fell ill during football training,” she says.
“It was two days before our county final and I had been fine when I arrived, but as soon as I started warming up, got an awful pain across my abdominal area. My trainer took me aside and got me to do a few jumps, which can indicate appendicitis. But he wasn’t sure what was wrong, so rang my Dad to bring me home.”
Claire’s mother, Margaret, is a nurse, so after checking her daughter, she gave her painkillers and put her to bed. Margaret said she would take Claire to the doctor the following morning if she wasn’t any better.
“The next day, the pain was still severe, so my Mum brought me to Midoc, in Athlone, where I was referred to A&E,” says Claire.
“At Tullamore Hospital, I had bloods taken and an ultrasound revealed that one of my kidneys wasn’t developed at all. I didn’t have any signs that I was effectively living on only one kidney, as I never felt unwell a day in my life, so it all came as a big shock to me,” Claire says.
When results of her blood tests and various scans came back, Claire was diagnosed with kidney failure. She would have to start dialysis and go on the waiting list for an organ transplant — it was a lot for the teenager to comprehend.
“I was only 18 when I was diagnosed, so didn’t really have any idea what my condition entailed or what was going to happen to me, so it was quite traumatic and upsetting for both me and my parents, brothers and sister,” she says.
“I had to start dialysis as soon as possible and I felt very emotional, but my parents were extremely supportive and found out everything I needed to know from the doctors.
“I deferred my college year in Sligo, where I was studying at the time, and started dialysis in the beginning of January, 2013. I found it hard at first, especially with the tube being inserted into my stomach, but I got used to it, as I had to have it done daily.
“So, after a while, I got on with my life; I reapplied to college and went back in September, 2013 — I even returned to play football with Moate ladies’ GAA, because I was determined the dialysis wouldn’t stop me from living normally,” Claire says.
But Claire didn’t want to be on dialysis for the rest of her life, so, like many other people around the country, she waited for the call that would change her world.
“In May, 2014, I finally got called for my transplant,” she says.
“I felt so many emotions, from happiness to sadness and fear, but I just wanted to get on with it. The operation lasted over two hours and I was in hospital for 10 days afterwards.
“I felt better straight away and was up and about and eating and drinking well. After I was discharged, I was told to rest for a few weeks, and now, nearly nine months on, I have never felt better in myself.
“My health and fitness feel great and the transplant has given me a new lease of life. I can now do things I hadn’t been able to do for over two years. So it’s great to know I am now healthy and can live the rest of my life freely.
“The experience has really changed my life and I have so many people to thank for it. It really is the gift of life.
“If I could give advice to anyone in my situation, I would say ‘never give up’. Don’t let it stop you from achieving your dreams and goals. My goal was to get back playing football and I am. It’s important to let people help and to take every day as a stepping stone.
“It may seem like a very dull time in your life, but do not forget that there is light at the end of the tunnel and think of it like a race you are running and when you get to the finish line you will feel fantastic and brave for achieving what you did.
“Do not give up and stay positive and strong. It is amazing what you gain when you do,” Claire says.
Organ Donor Awareness Week takes place from March 28 to April 4. For more information, visit www.ika.ie
Shortfall in the number of donated organs
There are more than 700 people in Ireland awaiting life-saving heart, lung, liver, kidney and pancreas transplants.
Thanks to the gift of organ donation, more than 3,000 people in Ireland are enjoying extended life.
In 2014, the number of deceased donors fell compared to 2013, so there is a shortfall in organs.
251 transplants were performed, last year thanks to 63 deceased donors and 40 living donors.
Though this transplant figure is lower than in 2013, it was the third-highest ever.
In 2014, 40 living kidney transplants took place at Beaumont Hospital and 18 heart transplants were performed at the Mater Hospital, along with 31 lung transplants.
Funding of €3m has been approved for the HSE’s Organ Donation and Transplant Office to develop infrastructure for organ donation and transplantation.
READ MORE: Saoirse Perry: ‘I was too sick to be scared about transplant’